Lessons in autism planned for police

By Danielle Medina

Law enforcement officials in California and Ohio who were not trained in dealing with autism used stun guns to subdue two children with autism earlier this year. Two local organizations want to prevent that from happening in New Jersey – the state with the highest incidence of autism in the country.

Parents of Autistic Children (POAC), Hazlet, and the New Jersey State Policemen’s Benevolent Association (PBA), Woodbridge, will host two half-day free training seminars on Dec. 6 in Brick Township for law enforcement officials and emergency responders.

“We’re thrilled that we have the full support of the state policemen’s union,” POAC spokesman Michael Finley said. “This will be the first of many sessions across the state.”

Brick was chosen to host the first Autism Shield Sessions because its school district has one of the highest autistic student populations in the state and has been at the forefront of training for its teachers, Finley said.
There are more than 4,500 people in Ocean County living with autism today, so it is very likely that law enforcement officials could be in contact with an autistic person, he said.

The two sessions – at 8 a.m. and 1 p.m. – will offer ways to successfully resolve a call involving a person with autism, Asperger’s syndrome and other developmental disabilities. The primary goal is to make the community a safer place for people with developmental disabilities.

The training sessions will benefit patrol and investigative law enforcement professionals; law enforcement training officers; crisis intervention team members; correctional, prosecutors, judicial and forensic criminal justice professionals; fire and rescue workers; EMS/EMT; 911 dispatchers; paramedics and emergency room workers; victim rights specialists; and retail and private security professionals.

There will be a 6:30 p.m. session geared toward parents, school resource officers, principals and administrators.

Dennis Debbaudt, who wrote for the Detroit News and worked with network television current affairs programs in the United States, Canada and the United Kingdom during the 1980s, will present the series.

Debbaudt, a father of an autistic son, has written more than 20 articles and books on the disorder and is a consultant for ABC News. He has been trained in emergency psychology and has worked with a number of law enforcement agencies.

He will focus on autism recognition and response; common autism behavior and characteristics; initial contact options; establishing communications; restraint and arrest options; and working proactively with families, advocacy organizations and school systems.

POAC provides training to the educational community and support to parents to raise awareness of the disorder. Autism affects 1 out of 150 births nationally and 1 out of 94 births in New Jersey. The Dec. 6 event is free, but pre-registration is required. Visit www.poac.net or call (732) 888-1000 for more information.

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